For this morning's interview, we sat down with Dr. Alfred Wong, Chief Science Officer, and Albert Liu, Vice President of Business Development, at Pong Research (www.pongresearch.com), a company developing products for redirecting cell phone antennas to reduce the radiation exposure of users. It's an area which has gotten lots of attention, but also has had its fair share of get-rich-quick, tin-foil hats, dubious scams, and products that just plain don't work. We sat down with Wong--professor emeritus at UCLA--and Liu to talk about the company's roots from research at UCLA, and how it's trying to get past the poor reputation of products in its segment, the debate over whether radiation from cell phones does or does not affect humans, plus its private equity backing by Bridgewater Capital Partners.
Talk about the technology behind the product?
Dr. Alfred Wong: How I got into this area, is I actually had a lab of 300 acres located in Alaska, working on research on the Northern Lights. We were using directional radio waves, to turn the lights on and off. In the lab, we were able to use directional radio waves to change the Northern Lights. It turns out, the power we used was one thousandth the power of the radiation now used for cell phone. The intensity of what we used was quite small, compared with is now irradiated by cell phones into our heads. I was quite alarmed by that ten years ago, and I started looking into how to direct the radiation from cell phones toward the cell tower, instead of the head, because I knew that if radiation resonated within the brain cells it could produce unpredictable results. We used the same kind of technology as my lab, coupling radio waves to direct the radiation from a cell phone towards a cell toward for communications. Independently, another professor at UCLA, found that a key percentage of radiation from cell phones is absorbed in the head. Combining all of this information, I was able to--after many years of effort--develop an antenna array that would couple the radiation from the antenna in a cell phone, and direct it away from a user's head and towards a cell tower. This redirection has been confirmed on numerous occasions by an FCC certified lab.
If this is such a big issue, why haven't designers of phone just been using directed antennas within their products?
Dr. Alfred Wong: If you remember, the cell phone industry has been in steadfast denial about any possible effect of this on the human head. I would like to point out, that in both the cell phone industry and in the cordless phone industry, the antenna has always been put in as an afterthought. Imagine, in a cell phone, they only spent five or ten cents on antenna design. That's how it all started, because of the consistent and continual denial of facts by the cell phone industry. They just never took the trouble to redirect it. Because of that, to do it now would admit that something is not right. So, they have not really changed much over the years, to make cell phones radiate away from users. Normal cells phones tend to radiate isotropically--in all directions.
This product area is not known for reliable products, and in fact has been singled out as an area with lots of scams and non-working products, i.e. "tin foil hats" -- how are you overcoming that issue?
Albert Liu: We recognized that there would be skepticism, when we build the company. We've gone to the testing laboratories in the business, particularly CETECOM, a lab in Silicon Valley, where all of the handset manufacturers go to meet FCC and carrier guidelines and regulations. That is incontrovertible as far as we're concerned. They're the number one lab in the industry. We also explain the physics of how this works, of the coupling/chimney effect, about radiation and how you can design a product to use that energy--but where you need a plasma physicist to do that. It's an altogether new approach. In the past, the products didn't work, either absorbing or shielding radiation. The problem is, if you absorb the radiation, that's the signal you need for your phone. With shielding, you're blocking radiation, which ends up going where it wants to go. We control the radiation with our redirection technology.
We have the first legitimate product to address the issue. There have been bogus products over the last ten years, which as muddied the waters. There are absorbers and buttons which never worked, to the point that the FTC created a declaration in 2002 that said none of those products work. With all of our third party testing and confirmation--literally, we just had an account posted today from Wired Magazine witnessing our product testing at CETECOM--it really works. It's a game changer, and down the road, there are other opportunities beyond an after-market case for phones.
Can you talk about your antenna design and technology?
Dr. Alfred Wong: First of all, we take a cell phone, and measure the radiation coming out of it. Using an external case, because we don't want to rebuild the phone--we have an envelope on the back that consists of a coupling antenna. One thing about cell phone radiation is it is an electromagnetic wave, and can be coupled without having contact. You don't have to touch it to get it out. We put it in the proximity of the original antenna inside the phone, so that it will couple the electromagnetic waves at some distance. You don't have to be really close or touching, just in proximity of it. We basically draw the energy out of the back of the phone, away from the user. What we invented is something that looks like a ladder, and pulls that radiation out and sends it out along the back of a phone case, so that the radiation can escape away from a user.
Albert Liu: The science of antenna coupling has been well established, and the sensitivities and tolerances allow this to happen in a small space and with zero distortion to the signal.
Alfred Wong: It preserves the power, but redirects it more efficiently for communicating directly to a cell tower. It's a very delicate and sensitive thing, but radiation is invisible. You're dealing with something you can't see, touch, or feel--until some damage is done. We use a powerful computer to model this radiation, and using a combination of computer modeling and laboratory tests, we use simultaneous approaches to capture that radiation and send it in the proper direction. Then, we had to put it in a case which was not bulky, and because of those constraints it took a number of years to perfect. We finally came up with a rather simple way of putting a phone inside a case, to serve two purposes, to protect the phone and to protect ourselves.
This must take a different case and design for each different phone?
Dr. Alfred Wong: Yes, every phone antenna is in a special place, though I'll tell you that phone antennas tend to be at one corner or specific spots on a phone, depending on a manufacturer. We're able to use the same principal to couple to that antenna, and we make cases for the iPhone and a different one for the Blackberry. They do change in size, but the principle behind it is the same.
How long has the company been around, and how are you backed?
Albert Liu: The group has been together for about 16 months now. Our investment partners are a group called Bridgewater Capital Partners, out of Virginia. They were very interested in energy and environmental issues, so they came to Dr. Wong, who they knew from some contacts. They told him they'd love to get involved and create a company. There was a nice convergence of venture capital partners who care about the issue, with a research lab already in place in Los Angeles, and our side I contributed design, development, and supply chain and manufacturing to bring it to market. We have three offices, one in Los Angeles focused on R&D, corporate offices in Virginia, and Sales and Marketing in San Diego.